The monuments of Roluos, which served as Indravarman l’s (r 877-89) capital, Hariharalaya, are among the earliest large, permanent temples built by the Khmers and mark the beginning of the age of Khmer classical art. Before the construction of Roluos, generally only lighter (and less-durable) construction materials such as brick were employed.
The temples can be found 13km east of Siem Reap along NH6 near the modern-day town of Roluos: Preah Ko is 600m south of NH6, while Bakong is 1.5km south of the highway. There are contemporary Buddhist monasteries at both Bakong and Lolei. For those who aren’t traveling much beyond Siem Reap and Phnom Penh, it may be worth venturing into the genuine Cambodian town of Roluos for a refreshing drink.
Preah Ko was erected by Indravarman I in the late 9th century, and was dedicated to Shiva. The six prasat (stone halls), aligned in two rows and decorated with carved sandstone and plaster reliefs, face east; the central tower of the front row is a great deal larger than the other towers. Preah Ko has some of the best surviving examples of plasterwork seen at Angkor and is currently under restoration by a German team. There are elaborate inscriptions in the ancient Hindu language of Sanskrit on the doorposts of each tower.
The towers of Preah Ko (Sacred Ox) feature three nandi (sacred oxen), all of whom look like a few steaks have been sliced off them over the years. Preah Ko was dedicated by Indravarman I to his deified ancestors in AD 880. The front towers relate to male ancestors or gods, the rear towers to female ancestors or goddesses. Lions guard the steps up to the temple.
Bakong is the largest and most interesting of the Roluos Group temples, and has an active Buddhist monastery just to the north of the east entrance. It was built and dedicated to Shiva by Indravarman I. It’s a representation of Mt Meru, and it served as the city’s central temple. The east-facing complex consists of a five-tier central pyramid of sandstone, 60m square at the base, flanked by eight towers (or their remains) of brick and sandstone and by other minor sanctuaries. A number of the eight towers below the upper central tower are still partly covered by their original plasterwork.
The complex is enclosed by three concentric walls and a moat. There are well-preserved statues of stone elephants on each corner of the first three levels of the central temple. There are 12 stupas – four to a side – on the third tier. The sanctuary on the fifth level was a later addition during the reign of Suryavarman II, in the style of Angkor Wat’s central tower.
The four brick towers of Lolei, an almost exact replica of the towers of Preah Ko (although in much worse shape) were built on an islet in the centre of a large reservoir – now rice-fields – by Yasovarman I (r 889- 910), the founder of the first city at Angkor. The sandstone carvings in the niches of the temples are worth a look and there are Sanskrit inscriptions on the doorposts. According to one of the inscriptions, the four towers were dedicated by Yasovarman I to his mother, his father and his maternal grandparents on 12 July 893.